Cleveland Orchestra Honors Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Awardees

The three winners are all pillars of the Cleveland area, excelling in their service to the community

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Ohio's Cleveland Orchestra announced the three winners of its annual award for exceptional community service, which is named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The awards, which celebrate "extraordinary contributions by individuals and organizations that have positively impacted Cleveland in the spirit of Dr. King’s teachings," will be presented to the recipients in the orchestra's Martin Luther King concert on June 4, 2022.

This year's recipients are Joan Southgate, Dolores White, and the Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center.

Joan Southgate, who was an activist and social worker, famously walked 519 miles across Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada, with the aim to bring awareness to the Underground Railroad. She also founded the Restore Cleveland Hope organization, which has recently been re-branded as the Underground Railroad Interpretive Center, a museum that enlightens visitors about Cleveland's role in the abolition of slavery.

Dolores White is being honored for her work as a composer. She is based in Cleveland, and is central to the musical life of the area, having received a great many commissions and also various awards for her work. Her late husband, Donald White, was also hugely important for the visibility of African-American musicians: he was the first Black cellist to be appointed to a major American orchestra when George Szell offered him a seat in Cleveland.

The third awardee is an institution rather than an individual. The Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center has been providing opportunities and a safe working space for Latinx artists, youth, and families. It is named for Puerto Rican civil rights activist Julia de Burgos, who fought for Puerto Rican independence and particularly for the role that women could play in this goal.

The program of the orchestra's Martin Luther King celebration on June 4 will include music by Dolores White, Mary D. Watkins, Carlos Simon, Brian Raphael Nabors, William Grant Still, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor — as well as music in the African American spiritual tradition. The concert will close with James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson’s beloved hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Originally supposed to be held this past weekend, the Cleveland Orchestra's 42nd Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration concert was postponed to June 4 due to COVID-19. Tickets can be purchased, here.